Seeing and Believing: Patrick Hayes and the men at Kyunba

2012   92 x 152 cms

Felicity has several times during the last year asked if I’d make a painting of her deceased father at Kyunba teaching younger men the story painted on the northern fascia of the rock wall. I’d taken photos of him there some years prior and the one of him that I used for 'This is not a Bull' was the one she preferred. I’d gone home and searched my journals for it in vain. I scanned my unruly archives. While I had others from that day, that particular photo was missing. The project was superceded by others.

 Now, Felicity has reminded me of her desire. Not only that, she produces from a small album the crucial photo. While chiding her for not telling me she had it I suggest it’s best to revisit the site and place the cast in proximity to the actual rock art.

 ‘Take Vernon and Wayne and my son, Valentine. Maybe Coco Wallace if you find him.’

 We have no difficulty in finding the garrulous Coco at home and his daughter is pleased we’re borrowing him for an hour or so.

 ‘Give us some peace an’ quiet’, she says as we head for the car in his driveway.

 He rattles away about his seniority, that he is the ‘worker’ or talker for the site, though Vernon is now the traditional owner. As we head south past the recently launched Desert Knowledge Precinct he mentions that nearby C.S.I.R.O has allocated some land and buildings for the Healing Centre to propagate healing herbs and teach younger people their medicinal benefits.

 He’s aware that he dominates the airwaves and though repeatedly aplogising for doing so he maintains his banter.

 ‘Woman next door tell me I talk too much. I say my name not Wallace but ‘wireless’, 24/7. I not need too much sleep. I got eagle dreamin’, sleep on the wing. I got a lot of knowledge; full language. Not like young ones. They lose it. Tangle up with English. I learn proper way from old people. Not born in town hospital. I born bush way at Atnape. I might get old. Born in ’47. I might go another sixty years; be on top of all Aboriginal people I so old. You get old and wise. Wise arse. Wallace. Same sound. You get old and you get broken into knowledge. Young fella not yet broken.’

It’s almost exactly twelve years since old Patrick escorted me here. We pull up in the carpark and stroll down the avenue of pines on the southern side of the ridge pausing at the burnt and damaged cave from where women and children cannot proceed. He explains this to his cousin, Wayne Chalmers, visiting from Utopia. The men pose before the painting.

 ‘Some University mob gonna fix these paintings up. Us too. They got special paint. Make it last,’ says Coco.

 We return to the car in time to see a Federal Police vehicle noting my plates. The Pine Gap Joint Defence conglomerate shares the two metre cyclone fenced boundary with Kyunba. Coco says the Feds have been instructed to do this routine surveillance. He asks for $10 for his services; his ‘medicine money’ for the morning’s kick-starter.

 ‘I give it back when I die. I’ll leave it on top of my coffin. Will you make that painting while I still livin’?

 It’s the strangest painting assignment I’ve undertaken, this ‘resurrection’ and juxtaposition of the living with the dead.